Patricia Michaels: 'Project Runway' is History, the Future is Now

Patricia Michaels, finalist on Project Runway, looks to the future with her PM Waterlily fashion brand.

An update on Patricia Michaels, Project Runway runner-up, from Santa Fe-based poet and artist Alex Jacobs:

Patricia Michaels didn’t win the Project Runway competition. But she won hearts and minds and, arguably, the popular vote -- she had the most Facebook likes, won the Project Runway Facebook Poll, and won the poll at Blogging Project Runway, the show's leading fan site. Legends Santa Fe Gallery represents Patricia, and Patricia’s team is exploring fundraising options for her fall collection to be debuted in New York City during Fashion Week. In her “down” time she is in various talks about shows, presentations, and lectures around the country, and she's just finished another photo shoot.

But in the present tense Michaels has to focus on her work, her studio, and the all-important Fall Collection. Legends Santa Fe will host two private shows August 14 and 16 before Indian Market; there’s an August 15 show at Poeh Cultural Center and Museum before Indian Market that will feature her Eco-Friendly Bridge PM Water Lily Spa collection. This show is just a taste of what will happen in New York. The Ready-to-Wear Line that will be shown at New York Fashion Week in September will be the PM Water Lily Label, consisting of 20+ Looks.

After all that, there’s her already imagined Spring Collection 2014 and a show put on her for by the New Mexico Women in the Arts in May 2014. 

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Back to the present, there are orders that have been sent out and more orders to be finished, she has to hire talented help and everybody on her team will need to get paid sometime. Patricia can’t lose momentum; she says her current designs will spin off into ready to wear garments. She is already in the next stage of her career and will be having an on-line fund raiser in the near future—and will need Indian country's help.

Team Patricia: Ready for the next phase.

Taos is still a trade center where all roads and directions cross and we are all part of Patricia’s journey through emails and prayers. All these avenues create opportunities and they are open for her and all of us. It’s important to her that every moment be appreciated, that life is celebrated, that it is reflected in her art, her fashions. It should have meaning, make you feel empowered, and create respect with Native youth so they can respect their culture and their elders. Michaels thinks there’s not enough respect, anywhere. There was some measure of disrespect on Project Runway in that Michaels felt others were telling her how to do Native fashion and attire.

The term “crafty” came up; she bristles at the high art bias and says: “You can’t have fine art without excellent craftsmanship. It’s like a doctor with no nurse.”

She speaks as an elder, recalling her grandfather’s words: “People will come in to your life, telling you who you are and what you are. If you tell them the truth, they never believe you, if you tell a lie, then they believe you.” Patricia went on: “Our truths were passed down orally, we participated in ceremonies, we ate clean food, drank clean water. Then these trade roads were shut down and others told us who we were and what we are. Truth is simple; today’s world is too complicated. Simple is hard. My designs are simple. People are afraid, they disguise their feelings, they can’t celebrate life, and they fall back to the safe, the New York black. In the end, you can be a trend setter or a follower.” She recalls Zac Posen and Heidi Klum’s comments on her work, like, exciting silhouettes and never seen before on a runway. “If they can put a head-dress on an underwear model, why can’t they wear a roach—wear the real thing?”

Patricia won the popular vote; she should’ve won the whole thing, but the sentiment all around is that she won by not compromising her art. Michaels is real artist, a fierce artist, she would have disappointed herself and, she feels, her community, if she gave in to the commercial aspects and designed a conservative line. She communicated this to the other designers, to always look for and build for the next opportunity, the next WOW Moment. Be prepared to express yourself as an artisan, to create momentum because we are always growing.

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Not many communities have a radio station like KTAO, it's solar powered, has a bar and a restaurant and killer view of the mountains. Quaint, lost-in-time Taos now has a pop culture phenom in Patricia Michaels and it seems everybody who’s riding the Water Lily wave in Taos is at the KTAO listening room. Michaels’ new lines will have eco-friendly features; she has a great description of the Aspen trees that inspired a new line. She may be coming to your city soon. You will have opportunities to help her move the fashion world and to give voice to Native American culture.

During all the craziness, her companion, James, told her to hug a tree. “I hugged an aspen and could feel the roots, the branches, the leaves, the sky, the earth. Each tree was a design; all the trees were a collection. I fell in love with the color of those round aspen seed balls. Celebrate life, it’s sad to hold back, go for it all, if it doesn’t pan out now, it will later. Others tell us what a Native is, how we should be. We have our own rules and regulations too, that we inflict on each other. It’s all a script and we have to change that script so our youth can be proud and have respect for their elders and culture. Our elders carried us this far, we need to respect that. My generation, we are the elders now; we have to start appreciating each other now.”

Lloyd Kiva New was the founder and first president of the Institute of American Indian Arts, and he was a fashion designer. When Patricia had her first fashion show in Santa Fe and received a standing ovation, Lloyd was there and said to her: “First Santa Fe and then Paris!” Patricia was much moved when she made it to Paris on Project Runway as she exclaimed, gratefully, tearfully: “Lloyd we made it!”

—Alex Jacobs

In Taos and Santa Fe, NM